“Pick a card, any card”, is not what you’d expect to be asked at 9.30am on the exhibition floor of an L&D conference, but I’m a sucker for a magic trick, so deal me in. If being ambushed by a professional magician with an impressive sleight of hand was an unexpected delight at the World of Learning conference, it was the first of many I encountered along with fellow senior learning designer Laurence as we trawled Birmingham’s NEC. Arguably one of the friendliest conferences our industry has to offer, World of Learning was made even warmer and more welcoming this year following its return to an in-person event after the interruption of covid. After many, many months of homeworking, the joy of seeing people face-to-face in all their 3D glory can’t be underestimated.
As a roll-call of speakers took to the mainstages to share their expertise and offer insights into the latest industry trends, fringe events across the hall covered a host of hot topics. Onboarding and talent attraction; learning in the flow; mental health and wellbeing; and – my personal geeky favourite – data analytics were all well-represented along with more novel but no less engaging subjects under consideration. Particular highlights included optimising accessibility, and designing for meaningful behavioural change. With so much going on, it’s almost inevitable to feel the prickle of FOMO. And yet you could take comfort that even if you did miss out on a thing, there’d be something else worthy of your attention along in a minute.
Hear to Listen drew the crowds
Our very own director of learning Sophie Costin took to the main stage to present an impressive talk along with Mark Poole and (via pre-recorded video) Gemma Woodham from Lloyds Bank. Not even a minor technical hiccup in rehearsal that put the video content in jeopardy could spoil their presentation. A packed audience gathered to hear about the finer points of Hear to Listen, a soft skills project that uses an innovative perspective-taking design to place learners at the heart of a conversation about mental health. After recording themselves using webcam, learners play back what they’ve said in the conversation, evaluating their own responses from the perspective of the person they’ve been speaking to.
A subsequent efficacy study led by Lynda Joy Gerry of the University of Auckland demonstrates just how successful a well-designed digital learning module can be in engaging people in a complex subject. Gerry’s research shows such learning can significantly change hearts and minds – and in this case, attitudes towards people with mental health conditions. Learners in the study demonstrated increased empathy and a greater willingness to engage socially as a result of sitting Hear to Listen. This gives us an insight into the success of an outstanding project. But it also provides ideas about how L&D professionals might approach measuring the impact of similar projects in future. Excusing our obvious bias here, Sophie and Mark’s engaging and intelligent talk was a particular highlight of the conference programme.
The Make Real immersive suite
Back on the exhibition floor, exhibitors showcased their offerings, demonstrating the emerging technologies and innovations to help creative-thinking L&D professionals develop strategies to keep workplace training fit for the way we work now.
The Make Real team had its own splendid immersive suite, complete with VR headsets for delegates to try. We invited attendees to step into our bespoke Altspace venue and take a moment to rethink how businesses might engage with people at a time when they’re increasingly working at a distance. At the heart of our ethos as a business, the immersive experiences we create are made better through collaboration. Conferences like World of Learning give us an invaluable chance to practice what we preach, inviting customers and competitors alike into our [virtual] world and getting to hear their thoughts and needs. Our dream team of Robin, Ben, Tonia and Tim worked tirelessly to meet and greet the delegates who came in droves to visit our stand over the two days.
Now back home, leafing through the swag collected from stands like a bag of scrumped apples (which considering one of the giveaways was an actual apple isn’t such a terrible analogy), I’m reminded that the best sort of engagement doesn’t lie snaffling up the free stuff (although, since I did write the first draft of this post scrawled into a freebie branded notebook, I’m clearly not above all that). Rather the best thing about a conference are those face-to-face conversations, where we not only showcase our skills, ideas and insights, but we come away a little wiser and a little more curious having heard from other people.
The conference hall is now empty, the exhibition stand is packed away, but there’s no reason that those conversations can’t continue. So please, reach out if you have a burning question to ask or a problem that needs a solution. We can’t promise you a fantastic card trick, but we might create some synergy which is an altogether more practical magic.
We’re always happy to talk to you about how immersive technologies can engage your employees and customers. If you have a learning objective in mind, or simply want to know more about emerging technologies like VR, AR, or AI, send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.